Multiple Personalities: Crime and Defense
With the ease of faking symptoms and the absence of objective assessments, trauma sufferers who develop MPD and use it as a weapon in the courtroom are no different, legally speaking, from those who claim they have repressed memories of alien abduction. Some juries have decided that no proof, aside from professional opinion, is necessary. Still, some professionals are seeking ways to offer better proof.
To decide whether this disorder may indeed have a biological basis, rather than being an artifact of the ideas within a given society, there ought to be evidence of it in different culturesthose cultures that have not been exposed to the literature and spokespeople of the MPD movement. There ought also to be evidence throughout historyand not just speculative evidence that a phenomenon such as demonic possession must have been multiple personality disorder. In other words, we must take care not to offer a presentation of a syndrome as objective and factual that can be demonstrated to possibly be the product of the needs of certain culture-bound medical practices and social narratives. The reliability of the theory itself must be scientifically verified.
Some mental disorders are interactive with a culture, and at least some of the ideas about MPD appear to be among them. In other words, the form of the persons discomfort takes the shape of the classification, which derives, according to Showalter, from diagnostic practices that encourage and authorize it. Indeed, as therapists backed off in the wake of scandal and lawsuits, the epidemic of MPD dwindled.
Perhaps the most important issue for the legal system is to adopt an attitude of balanced skepticism that neither accepts professional opinion at face value nor denies outright a defendants self-report. In that case, corroborating evidence would become key to the proceedingsa familys reluctance to comply notwithstanding. In the case of accusations against aggressors, genuine evidence should prevail, as with other types of criminal cases. In the case of those who are defending themselves with the diagnosis, claiming lack of awareness or responsibility, then a psychiatric history or testimony from those familiar with the person before his or her crime should be found and utilizedwith stronger evidence than mere episodes of forgetfulness.
If no one can be found who has witnessed clearly dissociative events in the defendants pre-crime history, or who treated the defendant for recognizable symptoms, then self-report and psychiatric evaluation based on it ought not to be accepted as the sole basis for any insanity or diminished capacity defense. In past cases, admitted maligners have deceived even a number of professionals.
Ignoring the silliness of a judgment that demands that cops also be therapists, there has nevertheless been sufficient scandal associated with imprisoning innocent victims of imagined abuse for courts to require better diagnostic standards and information in such cases. Where wisdom and informed opinion on this subject fail on the part of judges, we will continue to have situations in which juries decide these cases on the basis of the most influential expert rather than on the basis of truly objective criteria.